Construction workers’ safety is at the bottom of the priority list of builders, contractors, engineers

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By Vipul Pandya*

The construction sector in India is the country’s second-largest economic segment after agriculture. It employs more than 40 million people, contributing nearly 8% to the national GDP. According to an industry estimate, the Indian construction industry is worth Rs 9,000 billion. Prior to the global economic crisis in 2008, the industry grew at more than 10% during 2005–07.

After 2008, the growth moderated, with the industry registering an average real growth rate of 5% since 2008. However, the industry is now expected to recover with the formation of a stable government at the Centre with its thrust on infrastructure development to revive economic growth.

Infrastructure projects are major demand drivers in the Indian construction industry accounting for an estimated 49% of industry value followed by real estate and housing (42%) and industrial projects (5%).

Construction is an industry that requires working at ever-changing locations and work environments. Nearly 6.5 million people work at approximately 2,52,000 construction sites across the nation on any given day. Construction is one of the important economic activities in India. It offers employment opportunities to all categories of people right from highly skilled to totally unskilled labour.

In urban sector an increasing number of workers has taken up construction work as a means of immediate employment, which provides cash earnings at the end of the day. Rural masses also migrate to urban areas in search of job to get involved in this second largest occupation. In metropolitan cities, the construction work is predominantly a male-dominated economic activity due to the arduous nature of work to be performed by workers.

Construction safety in India is still in its early stage, because safety laws are not strictly enforced. Contractors ignore many basic safety rules and regulations from the start of any work. Although to improve working conditions, the government has enacted specific legislations like the Minimum Wages Act, the Workmen’s Compensation Act of 1923 (modified in 1962), and the Contract Labour (Regulation and abolition) Act of 1970, very few of their provisions are put into practice.

The National Building Code of India, 2005, provides guidelines for regulating construction activities for a building across the country, along with many IS codes of the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS), such as SP70-Handbook on Construction Safety Practices for site engineers, project managers, and engineers-in-charge of buildings and civil works.

Even then, workers’ safety in the Indian construction industry is frequently pushed to the bottom in the priority list of most of the builders, contractors, and engineers, many of whom are unaware of any norms and regulation.

In developing countries, safety rules usually do not exist, and even if they exist, regulatory authorities are unable to implement such rules effectively. Therefore, it is up to the construction professional to inculcate and concretise these safety norms in their working and set up desired standards.

This can definitely reduce accidents that directly or indirectly reduce project cost and ultimately delays. In India efforts should be made to raise the level of awareness among the workers and employers about the importance of health and safety-related issues.

In the State of Gujarat, in the year of 2018, 144 accidents were reported from construction sites resulting in death of 137 workers. The data was collected through RTI from all police stations across the state and news clippings. In the last decade 1,405 accidents were reported, including 990 fatal accidents and 415 non-fatal accidents.

Section 39 of the Building and Other Construction Workers (Regulation of Employment and Condition of Service) Act, 1996, provides reporting accident to the authority appointed under this Act. But enforcement is so weak that there is a huge gap between the number of accidents taking place and reported accidents.

Some data of accidents are available but there is paucity of data on occupational diseases. In the construction industry, workers pose risk of getting occupational dermatitis, cancer, asbestosis, silicosis, muscular skeletal disorder, respiratory diseases etc. Despite all odds there is some hope from Gujarat Building and other Construction Workers Welfare (BOCW) Boards. The BOCW Board has begun Dhanvantari Arogya Rath to help cure occupational diseases.

In the scheme, registered construction workers can get benefit up to Rs 3 lakh. The Board reimburses medical expenses, gives Rs 1,500 financial assistance per month in case of disability of up to 90% and Rs 3,000 in case of 90 to 100% disability due to occupational injury and diseases.

Trade unions and NGOs can also help victims by bridging the information gap and set up a system to confirm occupational diseases and claim benefits under the scheme.

*Director, Bandhkam Majur Sangathan, Ahmedabad


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